The Effect of War on American Soil ; Reports of Anti-Muslim Prejudice Echo an Earlier Tragedy

Article excerpt

It's fitting that the recently erected Japanese American Memorial for Patriotism is situated on the opposite side of the Mall in Washington - to counterbalance the FDR memorial. It stands as a stark reminder of the injustice committed against Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to relocate to stark and often unforgiving internment camps far away from their homes on the West Coast. To ensure that such a stain on American history does not repeat itself, it is also no coincidence that there are several Japanese Americans who serve in Congress today and one former congressman, Norman Mineta, a former internee himself, who is now the Secretary of Transportation.

With the diabolical events of September 11, 2001, another day that will also live in infamy, President Bush launched his war on terrorism. But with this offensive, the president was quick to visit a mosque to quell the wellspring of emotions that would ignorantly dispense hate to all American Arabs and Muslims.

This hatred toward American Arabs and Muslims is like a timewarp that propels us back to Pearl Harbor - putting aside the flawed analogy - when the country faced an outright attack. It was a time when the US Supreme Court, in a series of three cases, condoned FDR's Executive Order 9066, which gave the military authority to imprison Americans of Japanese descent, casting aside the bedrock of American values and the Constitution. The order was not formally rescinded until 1976, by President Ford.

The recurring question has been: How could this event have emerged in modern US history? In 1973, "Farewell to Manzanar," by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, chronicled her family's first-hand internment experiences. While that moving work brought us behind the barbed wire and into the soul of some prisoners, no significant research has been completed to fully examine the "how" rather than the "why" until now.

Greg Robinson's "By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans" provides a thoughtful analysis and adapts a psycho-historical approach to help unlock the clues to an ostensibly inexplicable act by FDR, an ardent defender of human liberty. By delving first into FDR's early years, Robinson proceeds to other experiences that may have shaped his thinking and led FDR to ultimately ink Executive Order 9066.

The president had two competing influences while growing up: One was the positive impression of his close friend and classmate at Harvard, Otohiko Matsukata. The other was the thinking behind his cousin and hero, Teddy Roosevelt.

While TR esteemed Japanese culture, Robinson notes, the tide began to shift as domestic politics in America impacted TR's view of the Japanese. "Mobilizing the same hostile stereotypes that they had employed a generation before against the Chinese," Robinson writes, "anti-immigrant agitators conjured up racist images of the Japanese as menacing and immoral. …